“History has many cunning passages…”
—T.S. Eliot, “Gerontion.”
The study of history, in general, and American history, in particular, is supposedly a rather easy discipline. The truth is that history is supremely complex.
Take, for example, the following “philosophically pregnant” description of the historical process provided by the erudite Dr. Eric Voegelin: “The process of history, and such order as can be discerned in it, is not the story to be told from beginning to its happy or unhappy end — it is a mystery in process of revelation.”
Another truth about history is that it’s very pliable. History is used by all sorts of people, organizations and government entities to justify any number of ideologies, ordinances and belief systems. Just juggle a few facts here, emphasize a statement there, ignore one or two events and bingo-bango you’ve got propaganda, mind control and “newspeak” — which is pretty much where we are today.
Another truth is that there are a large number of Americans who couldn’t care less about their country’s history. However, we’ll concentrate on those Americans who have some interest in American history identifying them as “good Americans.”
Now, “good Americans” like their history untainted by political propaganda. They like it straight up — no ice and certainly no ginger ale. They can handle the truth.
The problem is that there are darn few historians running about who aren’t dedicated to Marxism, a requirement that, for the anointed, has the serendipitous effect of guaranteeing interviews on PBS, the right to exchange bloviations with Larry King or to sit opposite Queen of Daytime Talk Oprah Winfrey. Yes, sir, you must spout the party line if you want a fast track to tenure, which goes a long way toward explaining why so many “historians” lean to the left.
Consequently, when you stumble upon an objective historian with pronounced analytical skills who can write with clarity, panache and precision, then the “good American” must read his work. One such historian is Tom Woods.
Thomas E. Woods Jr. is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Regnery, a Human Events sister company). Woods received his History A.B. from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has also written several other books, including How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Regnery), as well as innumerable essays. He’s an editor with The American Conservative magazine and has won the Templeton Enterprise Award, the O.P. Alford III Prize for Libertarian Scholarship and an Olive W. Garvey Fellowship from the Independent Institute. He’s currently a fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.
Dr. Woods’ latest book is 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask. “This book … poses 33 questions about American history,” Woods tells us in his introduction, “for which the typical answers are either misleading, grossly unsatisfactory, or clearly and demonstrably wrong. Worse than the standard answers to these questions is the fact that many of them are simply never raised in the first place, since they may give rise to forbidden thoughts that run counter to established opinion.”
I will guarantee you that Woods’ book will give the reader a whole lot of “forbidden thoughts” about our shared history. As a reviewer, I’m duty-bound to present the reader with some examples of Woods’ politically incorrect opinions. The problem is I really have to save the juicy ones for the book. You see, it wouldn’t be fair to Dr. Woods to detail certain chapters. For example: “What Was the Biggest Unknown Scandal of the Clinton Years?” (Hint: It wasn’t body fluids on any dress) Or “How Does Social Security Really Work?” (Warning: If you’re over 55, please have a box of Kleenex available for this one) Or, a really, really, good one for those of you who refer to the “civil war” as the “War Between the States” or the “War for Southern Independence” or the “War of Northern Aggression” is the chapter “Was the Civil War All About Slavery, or Was Something Else At Stake?”
First Imperial President
But we can take a quick peak at a really, really good example titled “Who is Most Responsible for the ‘Imperial Presidency’?” Now, I know that there are Republican Party stalwarts reading this who are salivating over the prospects that Woods names Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson. But you’d be wrong. Woods says it was good old Teddy Roosevelt, he of the beloved Rough Riders who, Woods implies, should have been the first recipient of a dose of Ritalin.
Before you get excited about Woods’ picking on the Republicans, lets take a quick look at Teddy. First of all that handsome, cigar-smoking, teller-of-tales Mark Twain met with Teddy twice and “declared him ‘clearly insane,’” which, coming from a man who consistently exhibited a certain discernment in his literary efforts, cannot be construed to be approbation.
Dr. Woods also informs his readers that (1) at the age of 20 Teddy had a fight with his girlfriend, came home and shot and killed the neighbor’s dog; (2) upon shooting and killing his first buffalo — PETA members please don’t read any further — he “abandoned himself to complete hysteria.…” and “as historian Edmund Morris put it, ‘whooping and shrieking while his guide watched in stolid amazement;’” and, (3) for the proverbial kicker Woods adds, “His reaction was similar in 1898 when he killed his first Spaniard.” Oh, and by the way, Dr. Woods cites the Spaniard-killing incident in Edmund Morris’s 1979 book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Dr. Woods’s book is full of citations.
To give you an indication of Teddy’s state of mind, during the United Mine Workers strike of 1902, when questioned by House Republican Whip James E. Watson (Ind.) regarding the constitutionality of sending federal troops in to operate the mines, Teddy responded, “The Constitution was made for the people and not the people for the Constitution,” a comment that would surely warm the heart of Howard Zinn.
And, as Woods informs his readers, it was the beloved Teddy “who pioneered rule by executive order as a governing style among American chief executives.” And it was Teddy who, in his dealings with the Dominican Republic in 1905 over possible debt collection by various European nations, “converted the executive agreement into a major instrument of American foreign policy.”
In concluding this chapter on the founding of the imperial presidency, Woods tells us that conservatives groused about Teddy’s unconstitutional usurpation “during the Progressive Era.” Woods writes: “William Howard Taft, a man of sober disposition who was much more at home on the Supreme Court than he ever was as President, vainly warned of this growth in presidential power and of the great difficulty in keeping that power restrained once unleashed. Nobody was listening.”
Woods is right, of course, nobody was listening or cared enough to do anything. Heck, they even carved his head on a mountain in the Dakota badlands.
Woods’ book has a sad irony to it. In his conclusion, he writes, “You almost have to give the architects of this system credit for the cleverness of the racket they have going: The same group of people who hold a monopoly on the power to tax and the power to initiate force also wield an effective monopoly on the power to educate future generations of Americans.”
It is, of course, our children and grandchildren who are unwitting subjects of the apologias for the state elite. “For this reason alone,” Woods writes, “the state’s official version of history, which is always and everywhere another such apologia on behalf of itself, deserves not the benefit of the doubt but an abiding and informed skepticism. No free people ever survived on a consistent diet of official propaganda. Hayek was right: How we understand the past dramatically influences how we view the present. That is why, for the sake of American freedom, there should be no questions about American history you’re not supposed to ask.”
Woods’ book will disabuse those Americans who are naïve enough to think that they live under the protections guaranteed in the old Constitution. Those protections are long gone, replaced by a pernicious democratic socialism that more closely reflects the dystopian horror of George Orwell rather then the federated republic of George Washington.
Tom Woods is a gifted scholar determined to bring a true and accurate rendering of American history before the public. Buy his book, read it, then join him in his efforts to restore the old republic.